The Coldest Months in Canadian History

dawson

Dawson, Yukon

As we close out the 70th winter since records began in the high arctic, I thought it would be interesting to count the number of very cold months, and further, determine the coldest of the lot. The map below shows all locations fortunate enough to achieve at least one month with an average mean temperature below-40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit, you choose).

minus40map2

The two areas of Canada most prone to extremely cold months are the central Yukon and the high arctic in Nunavut. Most of the locations in the above map are one-offs. But not Eureka, Nunavut. It’s the grand winner, having recorded 37 different months with a mean average temperature below -40. The coldest month of all time was February 1979, with an average temperature of -47.9°C (-54.2°F).

The second coldest month ever recorded in Canada was way back in December of 1917 when Dawson, Yukon, recorded an average temperature of -46.3°C (-51.3°F). Since Eureka is further north than Canada’s northernmost settlement, the Dawson record is the coldest month at an inhabited place. In some respects this month was more impressive. Starting on the last day of November, the temperature dropped below -40, and never rose above that mark — even during the day — for 31 consecutive days.

Interestingly enough, the two coldest places in the Yukon — Dawson and Mayo — also enjoy the hottest summers in Canada’s westernmost territory. The same sort of trend occurs in Alaska where the places with the warmest summers also have the coldest winters.

Prior to 1947, Dawson recorded one other month below -40 (as did Mayo). Both have recorded 4 additional winter months below -40 since then, with the last one being January of 1982.

The only other location in North America to record more than 2 months below -40 over the past 70 years is Shepherd Bay, Nunavut, at 5 occurrences (the last time being February of 1990).

Shepherd Bay is located on a sheltered peninsula devoid of the Arctic Ocean’s moderating effect, and outside of Eureka and Dawson, has the coldest month on record. Like most places in Nunavut, the record was set in February of 1979, only in this case the mean average temperature was -44.4°C (-47.9°F).

The coldest January ever recorded in Canada was set in Dawson in 1966 at -43.4°C (-46.1°F). This was the beginning of a two-decade period of inordinately cold winter months (as evident from the graph below). The only other months colder than this Dawson reading are February of 1987 and February of 1984, both set in Eureka.

minus40can

At least in Dawson the spring and summer months can be nice and warm. And even those extremely cold winters are relatively infrequent, especially since the 1980s. By contrast, winter hangs on so long in the high arctic that Eureka has averaged as low as -42.2°C (-44.0°F) in March (set in 1977). It’s the only place in Canada to average below -40 in March, and has done so 7 times!

Summing up, Dawson holds the record for the coldest December and the coldest January while Eureka holds the record for the coldest February and the coldest March.

The coldest months might be comparable between the two, but one need only compare the picture of Dawson at the top to one of Eureka below to fully grasp who has the nicer climate on average.

So there you have it, the Yukon is not as cold as you’ve been led to believe! Or at least, not as cold as some places.

eureka2

Eureka, Nunavut

Coldest Months Ever Recorded in each Province/State:

  • Eureka, Nunavut [February 1979] = -47.9°C (-54.2°F)
  • Dawson, Yukon [December 1917] = -46.3°C (-51.3°F)
  • Fort Yukon, Alaska [December 1917] = -44.6°C (-48.3°F)*
  • Fort Good Hope, NWT [January 1966] = -42.5C (-44.5°F)
*The thermometer recording daily maximum temperatures at Fort Yukon in 1917 used mercury instead of alcohol, and since 26 of the 31 days did not rise above -38°F, the month’s temperature had to be estimated based upon the the daily lows recorded with alcohol and the normal difference between the maximum and minimum readings. Up river from Fort Yukon, Eagle was able to record the daily highs because it was using an alcohol thermometer. The monthly average was -43.3°C (-45.9°F).
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Why the Chilcotin Will Eventually be the Coldest Place in BC

munchoIt’s an interesting fact that since 1938, when weather records began in earnest in northern British Columbia, the coldest January each year has bounced around between nine different places.

Ranked by the number of occurrences, the lucky spots are:

  1. Fort Nelson: 50 times with a total of 80 years worth of data (63% of the time)
  2. Smith River: 11 of 25 years (44% of the time)
  3. Lower Post: 7 of 9 years (78% of the time)
  4. Coal River: 3 of 3 years (100% of the time)
  5. Germansen Landing: 3 of 61 years (5% of the time)
  6. Lower Liard Bridge: 2 of 3 years (67% of the time)
  7. Sierra: 2 of 5 years (40% of the time)
  8. Yoho National Park: 2 of 41 years (5% of the time)
  9. McBride River: 1 of 3 years (33% of the time)

coldestinbc2

Coal River is the only location to be the coldest spot for all years within its record, but that’s less impressive when considering the fact that the station was in operation for just three years. Given the proximity to the Yukon border, Coal River would likely be rivaling Lower Post for the coldest winters in BC — though, Lower Post is probably the coldest place in the province, and holds the record for the coldest month ever recorded in BC (-37.5°C in 1969).

But these northern weather stations had all disappeared in the 1990s, which is why Fort Nelson had remained British Columbia’s coldest spot for 18 years in a row. Yoho National Park ended that streak in 2017.

Generally speaking, as you move north and east in British Columbia, the colder the winters, but there are microclimates that provide plenty of exceptions.  In much of the province, higher elevations have the warmest winters. That’s why the lowest point along the Alaska highway, Fort Nelson, has recorded BC’s coldest January 50 of the last 80 years while Tetsa River, 100km west and 300m higher than Fort Nelson, will never be the province’s cold spot.

Since the 1980s, the trend in Canada has been to centralize, and weather monitoring is no exception; most of the remote and northern weather stations have vanished. Of the nine stations capable of recording BC’s coldest January in the past, seven have disappeared, leaving Fort Nelson and Yoho National Park (located near Field) as the only cold spots left.

Moving into the future, the reduced number of weather stations in the north provides an opportunity for two new places to rise to the top: Dease Lake and the erroneously named Puntzi Mountain. Puntzi Mountain is exceptionally cold for its latitude during the winter months because it’s situated in a low spot on the Chilcotin Plateau, where the clear and windless nights allow cold air to sink and pool at the surface.

We need only look at 2017 to see the possibility in the years to come. Puntzi Mountain tied Fort Nelson for third place, and Yoho National Park edged out Dease Lake for top spot.

Additionally, Puntzi did not exist in 1950, but it’s almost certain to have been colder than both Fort Nelson and Dease Lake, but likely not as cold as the abandoned town of Smith River.

Comparing the coldest Chilcotin weather station each year to Fort Nelson reveals that January was equal in both 1950 and 2017. The Chilcotin point from 1950 represents the milder community of Kleena Kleene.

meanjantemperature

When you check back at this article in 100 years, you can call me out if I’m wrong, but just for fun, I will go out on a limb and predict that over the next century, the province’s coldest January will break down as follows:

  1. Fort Nelson = 90 times
  2. Yoho National Park = 4 times
  3. Dease Lake = 3 times
  4. Puntzi Mountain = 2 times
  5. Somewhere unexpected = 1 time
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What Does it Take to Trigger a Snowfall Warning in Canada?

train-going-through-huge-snow-wall-in-canada

It’s interesting to note that Environment Canada believes in and promotes discrimination. i.e. They have a different set of rules for different parts of the country (when it comes to issuing weather warnings).

In terms of snowfall amounts, a mere 5 cm forecast for Vancouver will trigger a warning while 20cm of forecast snow is required in the far northwest corner of the province.

Up in northern Quebec, they’re even tougher where Environment Canada does not issue snowfall warnings at all. The Quebec Inuit are apparently the toughest people in the country… or perhaps they know that the traditional methods of reading the weather are still more accurate than the highest powered computer in the nation crunching numbers down in Ottawa.

Here is the map for the entire nation. Note that areas in white do not receive forecasts and warnings of any kind because they are uninhabited.

ecwarningmap

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The Sunshine Tax

 

okrailSince moving to the Okanagan Valley area, I’ve been made aware of something called the “sunshine tax.”  It’s a sort of catchall explanation for getting screwed, and perhaps the most idiotic and pretentious excuse for not understanding basic economics ever invented.

  • Gas prices just went up today — sunshine tax!
  • House prices are rising — sunshine tax!
  • Income is stagnating — sunshine tax!
  • Someone in Tuktoyaktuk makes more money than you for doing the same work — sunshine tax!
  • Traffic is bad — sunshine tax!
  • Your wife left you — sunshine tax!

The “sunshine tax” stipulates that people in Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley  get paid less and/or “enjoy” a higher cost of living simply because of the desirable climate. The sunshine as it were.

The first hint of something serious wrong with this theory appears in the ironic name itself. It’s not a tax. Nor is the Okanagan all that sunny. Sure, it’s sunnier than Prince Rupert, but the 1923 hours of sunshine per year in the south Okanagan city of Penticton is a far cry from the 2544 hours in Medicine Hat, Alberta. It’s also less than almost all major cities in Canada including Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. If sunshine were a taxable commodity, Penticton and Kelowna would be overdue for a tax refund if anything!

The lack of sunshine aside, the climate is quite mild by Canadian standards, and that makes it one of the more desirable places to live. However, the sunshine tax explanation is not used in other cities with mild winters like Kamloops or Nanaimo or Vancouver or Halifax. They just know basic economics — a company looking for workers in northern and remote parts of Canada will need to offer higher wages to entice people to move there.

The most annoying part about someone invoking the “sunshine tax” to complain about their economic situation is that they are essentially demanding their cake and to eat it too. They think that they should get the same wages and cost of living as someone living in some remote outpost that they themselves would never live at without a significant wage increase.

So it’s not a tax, has nothing to do with sunshine, and represents nothing unique about the economic situation of the valley compared to other places that don’t have this supposed tax. Maybe it’s time to retire the self-righteous phrase, and join the realities of  planet earth.

Incidentally enough, this disconnect between reality and expectations is what has likely given rise to the “sunshine tax” phenomenon in the first place. Perhaps it’s not so much a misunderstanding of economics or a self-righteous attitude, but a failure to realize that we’ve been lied to.

Similar to the false marketing claim that the only desert in Canada resides the Okanagan Valley, marketers have also been able to project a climate with nicer weather than reality dictates. This reputation for great weather increases demand for housing and supply of workers. In turn, housing costs are driven higher while wages are simultaneously lowered.

If the Okanagan’s reputation matched reality, everyone would probably be more understanding of market conditions like they are in Kamloops and Halifax where newcomers aren’t duped into thinking they’re entering a paradise unequaled in the rest of the country.

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How to Beat Wikipedia at Their Own Game

bc_castlegar

Wikipedia’s standard of proof dictates that all information must be sourced, and not from blogs. Nor can original research be used. Interestingly enough, Wikipedia becomes an incredibly valuable resource because so many pages ignore this rule by supplying original research and local knowledge. For example, this table listing the world’s mountains by prominence was produced by a bunch of mountaineering nerds who sat down and calculated out most of these values. There’s simply no other source out there for such information. Thank you, Wikipedia.

And yet on many other pages, you have editors who will deleted every edit that does not provide a “valid source.” This detracts from Wikipedia’s value. The temptation to be too strict (for non-controversial topics) means that common knowledge and common sense are thrown out the window in the name of verification. Wikipedia is an invaluable source of information in large part because much of the information is original research and local knowledge that cannot be found anywhere else on the internet.

Their policy of not allowing blog posts as valid references falls apart when we consider the fact that this blog post is actually true while this government source is clearly wrong.

Rigidly following the rules means that anyone can find an error in the “official sources,” and permanently insert errors into the Wikipedia pages. And nothing but the use of common sense will be able to reverse the falsehood.

It’s much like how you might have a Math textbook that shows the answers in the back. You swear the answer to 2×5 should be 10, not 100 as the back shows. A good teacher is going to side with you because the “official answer” is clearly not right. A dogmatically rigid teacher will still insist the answer is 100.

You might be thinking that no such teacher exists, and hopefully you’d be right, but the same cannot be said about the editors on Wikipedia. For example, Canada has this completely meaningless variable called the Humidex, which is supposed to tell you what the humidity feels like — it doesn’t.

Those who use common sense like Environment Canada’s chief climatologist will look at the data, and know that 53.4°C (128°F) humidex in Castlegar, BC, is an error. They know that British Columbia has very dry air, so you never get humidex values like that. Plus, looking at other places in the area from that day shows that this was indeed an error that made it into the database. So instead, they will refer to the places with the highest humidex values in Canada as those in Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba.

But not Wikipedia. All that you have to do is source the Environment Canada data for Castlegar, and voilà!  You have just re-written history with a source that can’t be refuted. On Wikipedia, Castlegar is listed as the place with the highest humidex. Even the page for Carman, Manitoba, lists Castlegar as the record holder.

When the editors demanding proper sources look at the humidex record on Wikipedia, they conclude that it must be true . Anyone with a little local knowledge or some common sense knows it’s wrong intuitively, but those are not qualities they bestow upon Wikipedia editors, or at least not all of them.

There’s really no way to scrub the false humidex value off the Wikipedia site. They can’t link to this blog because it’s a blog, and thus not reliable, and they can’t point to non-Wikipedia articles listing Windsor, Ontario and Carman, Manitoba, as the record holders because the Environment Canada value for Castlegar is considered a more reliable source.

This is but one example of Wikipedia kiboshing truth in favour of fiction where the who of the source trumps reason. Wikipedia is a great website, but they could be even better if common sense were more common.

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Top 12 Musicians That Died in 2016

At the end of 2015 I took us through 10 black musicians we lost. It’s another year, and we are all another year older and another year closer the end of our own earthly journeys.

Over the year of 2016 we lost many of the great musicians. A sad reality of life, but we can celebrate the talent they graced us with over the decades. Here are 12 of the best who left us during the year.

12) George Michael. This was his last Christmas.

11) Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane

10) David Bowie

9) All 64 members of the Red Army Choir died on Christmas Day as their plan crashed into the Black Sea.

8) Fred Hellerman, the last surviving member of the folk group, the Weavers, passed away at the age of 89. Hellerman is the guitar player.

7) Bobby Vee

6) Ralph Stanley

5) Joey Feek, the wife of the husband-wife duo of Joey + Rory

4) Prince. It’s more than his guitar weeping this year.

3) Leonard Cohen

2) Merle Haggard

1) Glenn Frey from the Eagles, age 67. Take it easy, Mr. Frey.

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Yes, Last Month was the Wettest October on Record

bcairport

CBC Radio in Kelowna expressed the sentiment today that we’ve all been thinking: surely this is one of the wettest falls on record. It’s hard to argue against that! September was wet, and November is shaping up to be extremely wet down the home stretch — and yet, they have nothing on October.

While last month failed to set many precipitation records in terms of total precipitation, the number of days with precipitation shattered records all over the southern third of British Columbia.

Environment Canada defines a precipitation day as one that sees at least 1 mm of precipitation. British Columbia is a diverse province that varies from an average of about 4.5 days/October in the South Okanagan to over 24 days of precipitation on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands).

Interestingly enough, the north and central coast along with the far northwest part of the province saw well below average precipitation days. For example, the Langara lighthouse on the northern tip of Haida Gwaii, which typically averages 24.3 days of precipitation in October, only recorded 15 days in 2016 — the 3rd fewest days since records began in 1936.

They can’t afford to be smug up there, however, for Langara is one of the few places to ever experience 30 joyous days of precipitation in October. Now that is wet!

The map below shows the entire list of locations in BC matching Langara’s October record. The most recent occurrence of 30 October precipitation days comes from 2005 when both the Nootka Lightstation and Estevan Point managed just a single day of relief from the rain. But that’s not the worst of it because Estevan Point in 1963 and Pine Island in 1990 recorded 1mm or more for the entire 31 days of October.

precipitation

Locations that have received 30 or 31 days of precipitation in their wettest October (none in 2016).

While the remote, super wet locations were not setting new records in 2016, the more populated areas of the province were. Courtney, Powell River, Campbell River and a number of other stations in the area recorded 27 days of precipitation. All of them were new records. Estevan Point also recorded 27 days, but fell well short of its record.

The south coast and the southern interior were hit the hardest in October. Even places that average under 5 days per October managed to record more than double that amount.

Here are some places that set new records in October:

Vancouver Island:

  • Chemainus with 22 days (old record set in 1967).
  • The Campbell River airport managed to receive 25 days with precipitation, 2 more than the 1967 record. It was even wetter on the outskirts of the city with 27 days.
  • Comox with 26 days (old record of 21 days set in 1967).
  • Malahat with 24 days (old record of 19 days set in 2014).
  • Nanaimo with 23 days of rain in October (old record of 22 set in 968).
  • North Cowichan with 23 days (old record of 19 set in 2014).
  • Saanichton with 21 days (tied the 1967 record).
  • Shawnigan Lake, with records stretching back to 1910, recorded 22 days of precipitation — 1 more than the previous record set in 1967.
  • Victoria (YXX) with 21 days (tied the 1975 record).

Islands around Vancouver Island:

  • Galiano with 24 days of precipitation (old record of 19 days set in 1975).
  • Saturna Island with 9 days (old record of 18 days set in 1985).
  • Ballenas Island with 25 days (old record of 22 days set in 1975)
  • Fanny Island and Cortez Island both recorded 27 days of precipitation.
  • Merry Island with 24 days of precipitation (old record of 23 set in 1967).

Sunshine Coast:

  • Pender Harbour with 26 days (old record of 22 days set in 2005).
  • Powell River with 27 days (old record of 25 days set in 1967).
  • Sechelt with 21 days (old record of 18 days set in 1967).
  • Whistler with 24 days (old record of 23 days set in 2005).

Greater Vancouver – Fraser Valley:

  • Cloverdale with 24 days (old record of 19 days set in 2007).
  • Tsawwassen with 23 days (tied the old record set in 1967).
  • Fort Langley with 23 days (old record of 20 days set in 2007).
  • Mission with 24 days (tied the old record from 1967).
  • Vancouver (YVR) with 23 days (tied old record from 1967).

Okanagan-Similkameen:

  • Hedley with 15 days (old record of 13 days set in 1997).
  • Okanagan Centre with 15 days (tied old record set in 1985).
  • Osoyoos with 12 days (tied old record set in 1967).
  • Peachland with 15 days (beat old record set in 2012).
  • Penticton with 12 days (tied old record set in 1967).
  • Summerland with 13 days (tied old record set in 1950).

Boundary-West Kootenay:

  • Midway with 16 days (old record of 14 days set in 2009).
  • Castlegar with 19 days (tied old record set in 1975).
  • Nelson with 21 days (old record of 18 set in 1997).

East Kootenay:

  • Cranbrook with 17 days (old record of 16 days set in 1947).
  • Sparwood with 17 days (old record of 15 days set in 1990).
  • Wasa with 15 days (old record of 14 days set in 1950).

Thompson -Nicola:

  • Ashcroft with 9 days (old record of 8 days set in 1967).
  • Merritt with 10 days (tied old record of 10 days set in 1997).
  • Red Lake with 13 days (tied old record from 2009).
  • Blue River with 25 days (old record of 22 days set in 1967).

Oct2016records.png

In addition to these records, many other areas achieved near record setting precipitation days in October, from Fort St. John southward. The truly impressive figure from October in the Peace River area around Fort St. John was the snowfall. Chetwynd, for example, was the snowiest place in the entire country with almost 100cm of snow, but that’s for another discussion.

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